Tsai returns to Hawaii with new cookbook
BY NINA WU / firstname.lastname@example.org
Chef Tsai had plenty of tips, useful advice and Ming-style jokes as he demonstrated a Chicken Salad Chinoise (click here to watch video), Quinoa and Tomato Soup and Red Curry Braised Pork on Rice.
For instance, never put ginger in a blender — it doesn’t belong there. Tamari is a shoyu (soy sauce) without wheat. Throw an onion on your knife blade — if it bounces off, chances are you need a better knife. (Ming uses and promotes Kyocera ceramic knives, which are made in Japan).
Each of the 80 recipes in “Simply Ming in Your Kitchen” is accompanied by a 10-minute video and QR code which scans the shopping list to your smartphone. The first two videos in each chapter are free.
Tsai, host of “Simply Ming” and owner of Blue Ginger in Massachusetts, was one of the featured chefs at the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival in September. He’s also a regular visitor to the isles, coming at least once or twice a year to see family.
Tsai sat down for a conversation about food, his new cookbook and Blue Dragon, an Asian gastropub set to open early next year in downtown Boston.
Nina Wu: What inspires you when you come to Hawaii? What local ingredients from here have inspired your cooking?
Ming Tsai: I’ve always come at least once a year. … The coolest farm as of late, was a visit to Hirabara Farms on the Big Island (during a celebrity chef tour in January). They grew this romaine that was unbelievable. …
(And I) love your Kampachi … It’s got that richness and very clean flavor and I love the fact that it’s sustainable.
NW: Are you going to offer it at your restaurant?
MT: I’m considering it.
NW: Where do you eat when you’re here?
MT: I always go to Side Street Inn for the fried pork chops. The poke is great as well.
We had a fantastic grilled mahi mahi today at the Halekulani. Again, it’s about the pristine quality of the fish. I love your fish market, there’s always a lot of cool stuff there.
Even at Waialae (Golf Club), their oxtail is so good. I have it every time I go.
NW: How did you like being part of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival?
MT: So fun, it was a great party.
NW: You’ve got 80 recipes and this times it comes with a video and shopping list. Whose idea was that?
MT: It’s the first book of its kind. … It came about because I do my own food styling, so I said, “Since I’m doing it, let’s shoot me doing it.”
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. A video’s worth a million words because I don’t care how articulare you are — it’s impossible to write how to roll sushi. It’s easier to show it on a video.
NW: You grew up with your parents owning a Chinese restaurant. How much influence do they still have on you today?
MT: They’ve been a big influence on my life, more than as a chef. They just took us (myself, my wife and two kids) to Beijing and Hong Kong. We just did a three-generational trip this spring.
That was a gigantic influence, especially on my kids, to see where my parents grew up, to see where my grandparents grew up.
NW: Do you have a mom’s favorite recipe?
MT: Her salt and pepper shrimp. My dad’s Hung Shao Zhou Ro (red roast pork shoulder).
NW: You’ve become an advocate for people with food allergies.
MT: Allergies are important to me, even before my son had all his allergies. Ever since we opened Blue Ginger 14 years ago, we’ve had this allergey reference manual, the Bible.
I’ve always said, it’s the right of every American to be able to eat safely in restaurants across the country.
NW: What do you do in your time off when you’re not cooking? What’s your handicap?
MT: It’s golf. Eight or nine.
NW: It almost seemed like you were on the path towards being a mechanical engineer at one point. When did you know you would be a chef?
MT: That epiphany happened during a Dynamics (higher-level physics) final at Yale. It was a three-question final and I knew I did good enough to pass. … I got the first two questions pretty much right, so I actually put my pencil down and said to myself, “I don’t care. I don’t care what the angle of acceleration of that dot is (on a disk spinning on a stick).”
On question three, I actually wrote, “I don’t care.” That sealed my deal.
NW: Where do you get your inspiration?
MT: I get more inspiration from street food, especially the streets of Asia, streets of New Orleans, the down-home food. The best food in the world is home-cooked food, but you don’t get invited to people’s homes when you travel that often. Street food is the closest thing.
NW: So it’s been a year of accomplishments.
MT: This has been a great year. Jan. 1, I woke up, and I looked at my wife and said, “I need to write a book.” It’s going to be the year of the dragon. … When it’s your year, everything happens. You’re supposed to start new projects, do new things, finish things.
So I got the recipes done, boom … new cookbook, new restaurant, we just wrapped up “Simply Ming” season 10, which is a good milestone. I’m on a 10-city book tour. The next two and a half months will be about the new restaurant.
NW: What’s on the menu at Blue Dragon?
MT: It’s going to be great stuff. So we’re going to do our version of panko-crusted fish and chips and these great black vinegar fries.
We’re doing a sweet potato Indonesian curried lamb shepherd’s pie, Asian sloppy joe’s, with hoisin sauce. I use pork and dark chicken. It’s a fantastic burger.
We’re going to feature Banh Mis and hacked Peking duck. It’s Asian. We’re going to have dragon bowls, really good cocktails. Six beers on tap. I’m psyched.
NW: Two years ago, you were here right after getting kicked off Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef.” At that time, you swore off competing ever again. Have you changed your mind?
MT: They’ve asked me three different times and again, the answer was no. It was just to have fun and prove to myself I could cook with the 20-something-year olds. I’m happy for (Marc) Forgione that he won. I would have been more happy if I had won.